This article was contributed to Disorientation by an anonymous RA.
Where is the support for those doing the supporting?
I remember feeling afraid. When Massachusetts declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19, the Resident Assistants (RA) group chat exploded. We were trained to respond to anything. Well, we were expected to respond to anything. Can anything prepare RAs for a global pandemic? This was all so scary, but what was even more scary was the lack of communication by our administration. We didn’t know anything. I was forced to navigate being supportive to residents, while left completely unaware. Resident Directors (RD), who supervise RAs and oversee operations of residence halls, were left trying to guide their staff with misguided information. Day by day, I was constantly engaging in conversations with residents, who continued to be stressed. It was unnerving. I had to assure them “things would be all right,” though it never quite was for me, for my staff, for my bosses. At first, we were told Northeastern was equipped with the heavy infrastructure to support the student body throughout the remainder of the semester, and that students would not have to move out of their dorms. However, that message changed daily. At 5:00 PM on a Saturday, with no prior notice to any of the RAs, Northeastern e-mailed the student body saying they had 72 hours to vacate their dorms.
Amidst the crisis, RAs still had to be RAs. On top of moving out ourselves, we had to assume a number of last minute responsibilities - being on call, working duty shifts, holding office hours, and following conventional move-out procedures. The nature of the job requires that we interact with so many people, many of whom had been travelled for Spring Break just one week prior, and that in and of itself is unsafe and anxiety inducing during a pandemic. Can you even imagine, knowing what we do now, entering 50+ spaces unmasked with no PPE? We were the supportive body for our residents, ensuring smooth and speedy move outs. We received calls every hour for things like lockouts and entertaining general questions about “what to do.” The funny thing is, we never quite knew.
Now, we are students, too. We had to pack and find new places to live. I, personally, did not feel safe travelling to my family’s home in New York, which was the epicenter of the virus at that time. I was not alone. We are at-will employees, who, in an instant, were made homeless without warning. To move into my new apartment, I had to put up three months rent. I was lucky I had saved, but many students working for Residential Life rely on the compensation and were not as fortunate. This is a lot of money to spend at the drop of a hat. RAs received no prorated housing, unlike like all other students in university housing. In a couple of months, Northeastern received CARES Act funding, which aided many students, who were disproportionately disadvantaged in this situation. The CARES Act is a federal relief economic stimulus intended to domestic students. The department did nothing to help international student RAs, many of whom could not leave the States due to their home borders closing.
COVID-19 has brought to light the continuous mistreatment of RAs. It became apparent how disposable we are to the department. We constantly feel like undervalued members of the Northeastern community, and the way this situation was handled is a testament to that.